LONDON: Gaza is expected to face a complete communications blackout by the end of this week as a result of fuel shortages, Paltel Group, one of the few telecoms service providers still operating in the territory, told Human Rights Watch.
Paltel, which operates telecommunications companies Jawwal and Hadara, said on Wednesday that its few remaining operational generators will stop working soon when what little remaining fuel it has runs out.
HRW called on the Israeli government to urgently allow deliveries of “desperately needed fuel” to Gaza, warning that a total communications blackout would further jeopardize Palestinian lives. It also urged authorities in in the country to refrain from “deliberately shutting down or destroying telecommunications systems” in the besieged territory.
Residents of the Gaza Strip have faced telecommunications disruptions for more than a month, as a result of the relentless Israeli airstrikes that have followed the attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7. Israel has damaged core communications infrastructure, cut electricity supplies, prevented fuel deliveries, and shut down internet access, HRW said.
“Intentional, blanket shutdowns or restrictions on access to the internet violate multiple rights and can be deadly during crises,” said Deborah Brown, a senior technology researcher at the organization.
“Prolonged and complete communications blackouts, like those experienced in Gaza, can provide cover for atrocities and breed impunity while further undermining humanitarian efforts and putting lives at risk.”
They can also hamper efforts by civilian, humanitarian and civil society groups to identify and document the dead, HRW added.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that lack of access to tools required for documenting and quickly reporting abuses can contribute to increases in violence and atrocities. The UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression said that in some cases, shutdowns might be intentionally implemented to conceal human rights abuses.
Shortly after the Hamas attack last month, the Israeli government declared a “complete siege” of Gaza, cutting off power and other basic necessities, including food and water supplies, in what UN experts and humanitarian organizations described as “collective punishment” of the population in the territory.
Disruption of telecoms services began in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on Oct. 7. The following day, Al-Watan Tower, which contained the offices of at least one telecommunications company, was destroyed by an airstrike.
On Oct. 9, Israel destroyed a Paltel office, and a day later airstrikes targeted several telecoms installations, leaving Gazans reliant on a single network for mobile and internet connections. The only power plant in Gaza ran out of fuel on Oct. 11.
On Oct. 27, as Israel launched its land invasion of Gaza, the territory was hit by a complete communications blackout that lasted about 34 hours, the longest of the conflict so far.
Paltel told HRW that “when service was restored, without our intervention, it was quite clear that these disruptions resulted from deliberate actions perpetrated by Israeli authorities, and it happened twice afterwards.”
A blackout on Nov. 1 lasted more than eight hours, and another on Nov. 5 more than 15 hours. Paltel said both of those blackouts were the result of interference by Israel with cables connecting Gaza to the internet.
Another complete blackout in northern Gaza, on Oct. 29, was blamed on a generator failure following Israeli airstrikes.
The blackouts have also delayed the delivery of humanitarian aid, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
They are making an already severe humanitarian crisis even worse by depriving people of access to reliable safety information, emergency medical services, and contact with family and friends inside and outside of Gaza, it added.